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Memorable start for Tusi Pisi

Photosport

Tuesday, January 30, 2007    Sportal.co.nz    Photosport

The North Harbour first five-eighths, who has been picked up by the Crusaders for the Rebel Sport Super 14 this year, thought his chances of a professional rugby career might have passed him by, and he was making plans to get married and possibly play rugby overseas.

But then he was picked by the defending champions for their squad.

Plans to go overseas were put to one side, but marriage wasn't, and he had his wedding in Auckland on Sunday, caught the plane back to Christchurch on Monday and was training with the Crusaders on Monday morning.

It has been a hectic few months for Pisi who made his first-class debut for North Harbour back in 2002.

He's played 37 times for the province since then and was a member of last year's Ranfurly Shield-winning team.

Surprisingly, winning the Shield for the first time by a North Harbour side was not the big point of his year. What satisfied him most was getting the starting first five-eighths position and holding it with the side.

That caught the eye of rugby pundits and when he demonstrated his attacking abilities it was no surprise that his career was set up to advance.

"Getting the Ranfurly Shield was just a bonus. Getting that starting sport was a real goal for me," he said.

However, the win also came at something of the wrong time for him and his team-mates because that inaugural success, and all the celebrations that went with it, took the edge from the side when it came to the final stages of the Air New Zealand Cup and North Harbour lost heavily to Otago in the quarter-finals.

"I think we were still hungover from winning the Shield. We had done well up to the quarter-finals but Otago just seemed to want it more than us," he said.

During the season he felt his play blossomed by being associated with Rua Tipoki and Anthony Tuitavake outside him.

"It was just amazing playing inside them. Any little thing I needed to work on, we worked on it together. They kept telling me to play my own game and to have confidence. If I felt I could have a go, then I should carry through with it was what they said," he said.

Pisi appreciates his new rugby home and says all the stories are true about the Crusaders being one big family.

"I am loving it. It is fantastic. They've welcomed all the new boys in," he said.

He's being looked after by Caleb Ralph, Casey Laulala, Kevin Senio and Mose Tuiali'i.

"People talk about the environment here but you don't really know how great it is until you experience it.

"They have this winning habit and it shows in how they all bond with each other," he said.

Pisi did admit as the Crusaders prepare for their opening game of their title defence that it is hard to believe that they are playing rugby so early in the season.

"It is pretty difficult. It is so hot and the body is not used to the contact at this time of year but we have had some great preparation," he said.

And while he will be possibly lining up against some old team-mates in the Blues line-up, he is waiting to see how it works out.

"I had a chat with Anthony [Tuitavake] at my wedding but we weren't talking rugby, we might see each other on the field on Friday," he said.

It's a contest to be relished in more ways than one as two of the country's highest-profile sides look to start the season with a win.